3 Treasure Coast Charities Positively Impacting The Community
Giving is like yawning; both require a big stretch of oneself, and they are super contagious. It’s impressive for a place like the Treasure Coast, which is known for its seasonal residents, transplants and vacationers, to also be hugely dedicated to the local community. Martin and St. Lucie counties are widely known and revered for the generosity of their residents. Whether through volunteer hours or fiscal resources, one of the greatest gifts of the area is the spirit of its people. And though there are thousands of stories of giving to share, the following three reflect the creativity and capacity for caring and giving that makes the area legendary.
Frustrated by working in a clinical setting and finding it nearly impossible to reach the teenage boys he’d been tasked with serving, psychotherapist and substance-abuse expert Bob Zaccheo used his imagination to find a way to break through and gain trust. Realizing motors and engines intrigue most teenage boys, Zaccheo arranged therapy sessions under the hoods of cars. Within seconds of popping a hood, formerly silent and sullen youths were not only talking but also sharing. Zaccheo knew it was the start of something big. Something he would call Project LIFT.
Founded in 2010, the program helps youth—95 percent of which are court-ordered—leave the program with solid counseling, a marketable skill and an education.
Zaccheo remembers how the program worked for a young man named Bruce. “Bruce was in and out of trouble all the time,” he says. “Expelled from school, every cop knew him and the state attorney put him in Project LIFT. We realized early on he was really good at fairing (putting the finish on the outer side of a boat). He successfully completed our program, came off probation, and we were able to give him a car that we had fixed up in our auto program (more than 100 cars have been donated to Project LIFT’s Automotive program, and over 1,000 no-cost repairs have been conducted). Bruce got a full-time job at Applied Concepts, working with carbon-infusion boat building. He started learning how to do that at about $13 per hour and kept getting increases. Fast forward to now, when Bruce is one of the go-to guys for carbon-infusion and is now infusing hulls for Garlington.”
Project LIFT was awarded an Impact 100 grant in Palm Beach County, which was used to create a site in Belle Glade. More recently, Project LIFT received an Impact 100 grant in Martin County, and the group used the awarded $100,000 to fund a high school program, which just graduated its first official class of 25. The program is on track to graduate 100 students within its first two years. “A couple weeks ago, one of our kids graduated with a job offer of $33,000 a year,” Zaccheo says. “His family is out of danger, the taxpayers are off the hook for a far larger amount, and this young man will continue to be a contributing member of the community. That’s impact.”
Jennifer and Peter Jones grew up experiencing Broadway shows and soaking in the entirety of the theater experience in New York City. When the pair produced their first student summer musical, they were surprised to find that many children in Martin County possessed a strong desire to perform but had no background or basic knowledge of musical theater. They set out to change that, creating StarStruck Theatre, the first and only children’s theater in Martin County. Keeping up with the Joneses is not easy because they demand StarStruck students “learn discipline, a strong work ethic and tolerance.” These skills, along with the confidence, composure and the ability to react and think on one’s feet help prepare StarStruck students for the stage, of course, but they also help ready students for every chapter of their lives to follow. Jennifer Jones puts it this way: “Children who study theater arts are leaders in their peer groups. The confidence instilled through the process of attending an acting class, or a dance class, or being a cast member in a performance, is immeasurable.”
Recently, after years of renting, StarStruck embarked on a campaign to procure its own permanent home. Because of the organization’s stellar reputation and success with turning kids into performance professionals, several generous donors and philanthropists in the community came through to help make the StarStruck Theatre a reality. “David L. Smythe is a community leader and champion for Martin County’s youth,” Jennifer says. “His philanthropy toward StarStruck Theatre created a permanent place for children of all ages to grow in the most creative environment; one that teaches and expects discipline, a strong work ethic and tolerance from all of its students. Martin County now has its first and only children’s theatre because of Mr. Smythe and other incredibly generous donors, such as Patricia Lambrecht, Greg Block, Jerry and Phyllis Rappaport, Margaret Richebourg and Joe Temple, Harvey and Chrysanthi Berger, Jack and CeeJay Heckenberg, and Nancy Marin.”
With a building of its own, StarStruck members and the community that supports them are not finished yet. “StarStruck Theatre will continue to be a beacon of high education in theatrical arts training,” Jennifer says. “Future fundraising initiatives include updating the physical structure of the facility: impact windows and roof; expanding and updating classrooms; costuming and set-building areas; and hopefully air-conditioning the warehouse, which houses 18 years of costumes, scenery and props. We’ll do whatever it takes because StarStruck is proud to be a part of children’s growth in helping to create educated, empathetic, empowered citizens and stars of tomorrow.”
Jewelia – Where Diamonds are a Community’s Best Friend
In 2009, Cheryl Jarvis penned “The Necklace,” a book about 13 women in California who shared ownership of one expensive and special necklace that changed their perspectives, their values and their lives. Just a few short years later, their story and another necklace are inspiring an entire community and helping save lives in St. Lucie County.
When Wendy Dwyer had the idea to apply this concept locally, she first told Sydney Liebman, who was at the time the development director for HANDS of St. Lucie County, a Volunteers in Medicine clinic serving those who cannot access health insurance or Medicaid. Once she had an organization to support, she set out to find a jeweler. This was easier than she imagined as Greg Childress, the owner of G. Alan’s Fine Jewelry & Coin, loved the idea and created and donated a spectacular diamond necklace valued at $12,500. He also insured the pricey piece that would be shared by a dozen women and offered his shop as a meeting space for the group to make the monthly necklace exchange and share the progress made by each of its wearers.
A dozen women agreed to raise $1,000 each during their month-long experience with the necklace, as well as awareness about the plight of more than 65,000 individuals in St. Lucie County who are uninsured.
Thousands of community members who were friends, family and acquaintances to each of the women became aware of the life-changing health services available to residents who work hard, but simply do not have access to affordable health care. The phones at the HANDS clinic began to ring, nutrition education classes got funding, the dental and vision portions of the clinic began to increase their services, and referrals were made to mental and obstetric health services for needy individuals.
The first year alone, the 12 women raised about $300,000 between fundraisers and grants. “At one point we were told that the first $217,000 raised helped provide $21 million in services, which would mean that every dollar raised was worth $100 in provided services,” Dwyer says of the added value of their volunteer work and the awareness they spread.
Along the way, G. Alan’s Fine Jewelry & Coin added a pair of earrings to the necklace that had become a community celebrity. As Jewelia begins her fourth year in circulation with a new group of caring women, the shared necklace has raised more than $650,000 in funds to benefit St. Lucie County residents.
The people behind these three organizations have reached beyond themselves to become volunteers, donors or supporters of community non-profits. With thousands of non-profit organizations on our stretch of paradise, there is no limit of good that can be done to help change and improve the lives of children, seniors, animals, students, the environment, and indeed, the entire Treasure Coast community.